Shared Chat
Why should you meditate?

Meditation can have various benefits for individuals.

One major aspect is that it can provide individuals with a better understanding of their own mind and thoughts . By observing their thoughts and emotions, people can learn to detach from them and develop a more skillful relationship with their mental experiences . This can lead to reduced suffering and better decision-making .

Meditation has also been associated with improvements in emotional well-being, stress reduction, and enhanced immune function . However, it is important to note that the scientific research on meditation is still ongoing and some of the reported benefits may vary across individuals . It is essential to find the right form of meditation that suits an individual's specific needs and circumstances .

It's worth mentioning that while meditation can be beneficial for many people in most situations, it may not be recommended for everyone, especially in intensive or prolonged forms of practice . It's always a good idea to consult with a qualified meditation teacher or healthcare professional before engaging in any intensive meditation practice.

Ultimately, the decision to meditate is a personal one. It's important to explore meditation with a curious and open mind, and see if it resonates with your own experiences and goals .

Sam Harris: and he's been a very prolific experimental scientist. He has published more than 300 papers, as well as numerous chapters and reviews, and he has edited 14 books. And I think it's beyond dispute that Richie has done the most important neuroimaging research on meditation to date. He generally works with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and EEG as well. All of those articles you've seen with the French monk Mathieu Ricard with EEG electrodes on his head, that research was done in Richie's lab. And really there's no one better to talk about the current state of the science for our understanding of mindfulness and meditation. And as luck would have it, Danny and Richie have just published a book together presenting all of the relevant science. And that book is Altered Traits. Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. And we get into all of that in this conversation. We talk about the original stigma associated with studying meditation, the history of introspection in Eastern and Western culture, the more recent collaboration between Buddhists mainly and Western scientists, the difference between altered states of consciousness and altered traits, the importance of actually practicing meditation, We talk about an alternate conception of mental health, what it means to be identified with thought and how non-optimal that is, the relationship between mindfulness meditation and so-called flow states, and many other topics here. This really is the conversation that will get you most grounded in the why and the what of meditation from a scientific point of view. So now, without further delay, I bring you Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. So I'm here with Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. Dan, Richie, thanks for coming on the podcast.
(someone): Certainly in terms of intensive silent retreat. So something might be good in short doses, but in larger doses may not be helpful. For example, if somebody is really suffering from a deep depression, the isolation of a meditation retreat where people are in silence and not talking, that might be counterproductive. What might be needed more is some kind of engagement. with other people with therapeutic skills. Uh, so that would be one, one area where it would be worth looking to see is the form of meditation, the right form for what's going on.
Sam Harris: And we should say that you do encounter this problem with some regularity on silent retreat, where people who have some psychopathology, like schizophrenia, get in over their heads, and it's just objectively bad for them to be in isolation and silence.
(someone): Yes. I would say that that does happen, definitely, and over the years we've experienced that. It's not the common experience for most people. the practice and the various forms of practice work well. But there are these cases where it doesn't.
Sam Harris: So then there's the question of even if meditation is good for you, there can be periods where it doesn't seem to be good for you in terms of the character of your experience is getting worse by some metric.
(someone): This points to kind of a key question in understanding the appropriateness of meditation at a particular time, and it has less to do with what it is that's arising, whether what's arising is difficult or not, because in meditation lots of difficult things come, whether it's physical pain, or really difficult emotions, you know, or memories. So sometimes we're really facing different aspects of suffering in our lives,
(someone): Right. There's another component of this, which is And this is kind of what makes the meditation so interesting because there are just different levels to what's going on. So if we can unhook from the thoughts and we're just left with the physiological remains of whatever the thought pattern was, so then the question becomes how are we relating to those physical energetic sensations? If they're unpleasant, we may no longer be feeling anger towards the content of our previous thoughts, but we may be feeling, we could say, aversion to the unpleasant sensations that are the residue. So that becomes another level to look at. You know, how's the mind relating to that energetic phenomena? So that becomes another place of investigation.
Sam Harris: So the flip side of this, and this is another the other question we have more or less on this topic, can meditation or mindfulness be bad for you? Are there people who shouldn't meditate or shouldn't go on silent retreat? And I guess I would add to this, you've just talked about how increasing your ability to observe the flow of your own consciousness reduces suffering, seemingly, almost by definition, and gives you an ability to choose more wisely. But is there a period in one's practice where seeing more actually just translates into more suffering, or new kinds of suffering that wouldn't be there otherwise? So take both parts of that. Even if meditation is ultimately good for you, are there periods where it can certainly seem to be bad for you? And are there people for whom it's actually bad?
(someone): I think for different people at different times, I would say it's not recommended. Certainly in terms of intensive silent retreat. So something might be good in short doses, but in larger doses may not be helpful.
Sam Harris: That's a nice sentiment. I'm not so sure I've seen that borne out in the Dharma community. What I believe I've seen among Buddhists and hippies and New Agers and people who have, quote, aimed at the highest happiness in explicitly, you know, meditative terms, I feel like I've seen a lot of casualties of the Dharma. I've seen people who have, because they spent crucial years of their lives engaged in these esoteric pursuits, they actually didn't become self-actualized in ways that they really would want to have been to access ordinary levels of happiness, to have ordinary careers, or to start families at the right time, or to make money when it was easy to make money so that they had money when it was harder to make money, you know, when they're older. And so there's a kind of mismatch between the Enlightenment project we should get to what the most esoteric goal of meditation actually is. But I feel like I've seen people who, I guess, fell through the cracks in a way. Because it's hard, obviously, it's hard to reach the goal. It's hard to meditate so effectively that your feeling of well-being becomes impregnable and is no longer dependent on anything substantive happening in your life, right? So it's hard to become the person who doesn't really care whether you got to have kids if you're the person who really wanted kids, right? But now you've spent 20 years in Nepal studying with llamas and you missed that chapter of your life. So do you want to say anything about the casualties of the 60s or the Dharma or any other way you want to frame it?
Sam Harris: I had had years as a Vipassana meditator, and I had studied with various Advaita teachers in India, but I hadn't yet connected with a Dzogchen master, and so Francisco recommended that I go to Nepal to study with Tukorg, and and he was instrumental in that happening. And also, he wrote me a letter of recommendation to graduate school for neuroscience, and so that was, as you know, he's a neuroscientist, so he straddled both these worlds before I really knew these worlds were being straddled by anyone. And then, I think I went to your first Summer Research Institute, Richie, and also was, I at least collaborated with you in setting up that first Vipassana retreat at IMS for scientists, where we put up 100 scientists in silence around, I don't know, it's like 2006 or somewhere around there. Let's get into the book, because this book is really the most comprehensive and up-to-the-minute presentation of the scientific research on meditation in general, and specifically mindfulness, which, as you just pointed out, Dan, is everywhere, and people are making extravagant claims for its benefits, some of which are grounded in the science and some of which aren't, or at least aren't yet. Richie, give us this basic distinction that you make early in the book, which carries throughout it, between altered states and altered traits.
(someone): Well, altered states refer to the experiences that we have sitting on the cushion or sitting on a chair when we're meditating. And the importance of meditation lies not really in the transitory experiences that we have when we're meditating, but it is in the impact of these practices in every nook and cranny of our everyday life. And this is what we refer to as altered traits. Altered traits are enduring changes.
(someone): cachet and virtue now that wasn't true in the past, if only as an antidote to a social trend. There was a research at Harvard that, you know, that famous paper in science where they monitored how distracted people are during the day, and the title was, A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind, because the more your mind wanders in distraction, the more depressed you get.
Sam Harris: There really is a different conception of mental health here that we are tacitly endorsing, because the assumption has been for most people, and certainly for most of science, that certain default facts about our mind are normal, and the idea of changing them just simply wouldn't occur to a person. Most people don't even know that their minds are continuously lost in thought, and It's not even considered, it really is just the white noise of our worldview. And then when you enter a contemplative tradition, and in particular a discussion of mental training in the Buddhist tradition, you see, really as almost your first claim, that this is absolutely pathological to have your attention continually buffeted by the winds of discursive thought, and you're helplessly carried away by every single thought that enters consciousness. And not only are you carried away by the emotions that it invokes—desire and fear and boredom and all the rest—you are identified with it such that it seems to be you. I mean, your sense of self is bound up in the flow of thought in a way that most people have never, it's never occurred to them to question, and there's very little in, has been, you know, heretofore, very little in Western science that has inspired questioning it. And I want to talk about, you know, how you both view the self, but do you want to say anything about what it means to have a healthy human mind in light of this meditation research?
Sam Harris: And this is just a 30 second slice of life. When you learn to meditate, there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of moments like this throughout the day. These are choice points that wouldn't otherwise exist. These are paths taken and not taken, for good reason. But without free attention, there's no place for good reasons to land. And as you grow in mindfulness, you begin to notice the lies you can no longer tell. And you begin to have insights into your true motives in various situations that are sometimes not flattering. But you want these insights all the same, because how else could you become a better person? That is what it is to live an examined life. So don't meditate just because it's good for you. It's more important than that. When you sit down to meditate, you will find yourself assailed by thoughts. Thoughts about what you need to do later in the day, thoughts about things that worry you, thoughts about things you want or don't want. The moment you attempt to pay attention to your breath or to the sound of the wind in the trees, you will meet your mind. and your mind is the most rambling, chaotic, needling, insulting, insufferable person you will ever meet. It's like having some maniac walk through the front door of your house and follow you from room to room and refuse to stop talking. And this happens every day of your life. It is possible to get him to stop talking for brief periods of time, and that can come with greater concentration in meditation. It's possible to pay attention to the breath, for instance, and to be so focused on it that thoughts no longer arise.
Sam Harris: The landscape of mind will open up into this vast territory of visual experience and visual and synesthetic experience where one's emotional body is brought forward across this landscape of immense visual implication. In some ways, the center of the bullseye meditatively is orthogonal to all of the extraordinary changes that can happen for a person taking psychedelics. And yet, they're quite complimentary and supportive in ways that we have discussed. I mean, one is, you know, many people just can't even get started with meditation but for first having had a psychedelic experience. And, conversely, many people have a much better psychedelic experience based on their meditative experiences and the training they've had in just letting go of thought and conceptualization and negative emotion and not clinging to experience itself as a basic orientation. So there's, it's sort of hard to talk about, I think, but there's a, you know, at least for me personally, meditation and psychedelics have been kind of two wings of the bird of, you know, having a first-person mode of inquiry into the nature of mind and it's, you know, I can't view either as dispensable and yet they're quite different when taken separately at any point in one's journey and for a significant period of time.
(someone): Yeah. A couple of things. One, when you were prescribing what it is you learn in meditation, I think what was occurring to me as you were rolling through the list of how that changes your experience is that's available within the psychedelic experience. But I will grant you that intermittent use is, I mean, there's very little stability
(someone): And so in some ways, the effects were less profound in them, but across the board, most, I hesitate to say all, because I need to go back and look at that data, most reported that if anything, it enlivened their meditation practice. Long-term meditators can very often fall into a habitual type of practice, that they have a go-to practice of meditating on breath or visualization or whatever, and they can lock into that practice and it can become habitual, and psychedelics by and large, got them out of the rut of whatever single practice or single set of practices they were using. And so, if anything, increased their interest in meditation. Importantly, none of them would have said that psychedelics were any kind of replacement for meditation, because it's really, the meditation provides the foundation for these kinds of explorations. There's all the difference in the world between awakening experience and leading an awakened life. That's what Meditation is absolutely designed for, right? It's practice and it's practice for bringing that sense of awareness moment to moment into daily life. And psychedelics certainly are less likely to accomplish that. Then in terms of neurophysiology, of course, the default mode network which has got a lot of attention, particularly early on with the psychedelics, is decreased under acute psychedelic administration. But that's exactly what happens in long-term meditators, it's decreased. So there's a reason to think that some kinds of network levels, at least acute psychedelics are producing something that looks akin to what long-term meditators might experience.
Sam Harris: But Joseph is available to you right now on an app as a meditation teacher. So, Joseph, the first question. Why should I care about meditation practice or mindfulness? Why should I start a practice like this? What am I missing?
(someone): Well, I think the answer to that is really very simple. The first time when I went to India when I was looking for a teacher, I ended up in India, Bodh Gaya. That's where the place of the Buddha was enlightened. I met my first teacher there and he said something very simple to me the first time I met him. And I think it conveys the underlying reason why we meditate. He said, if you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it. And I just appreciated the simplicity of that. There was nothing to join, no rituals, no ceremonies. It's just the simple understanding that understanding ourselves is possible. It's very pragmatic and very simple, and there is a methodology for doing it. In that understanding of ourselves, we begin to see what creates suffering in our lives and what brings greater happiness and peace. And when we see that, we can make wiser choices. And as we make wiser choices, we become happier. And as we become happier, we make wiser choices in our lives. So it becomes a spiral of greater fulfillment and greater ease.
Sam Harris: And of course, learning any complex skill requires that your brain physically alter its structure. That is what learning is at the level of the brain. So saying that meditation changes the brain is not to say that it's special or that it's good for you. Most things that are bad for you also change your brain. Of course, there's a growing literature on the benefits of meditation, but I want to suggest that there's nothing likely to appear in that literature that represents the deepest reason why one should meditate. For instance, there are studies that suggest that meditation improves immune function or reduces stress, or that is associated with less age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex. Well, having a good immune system and reducing stress and not suffering neurodegeneration are good things in general, but those studies might fail to replicate tomorrow. And should that happen, my recommendations in this course would not change at all. There really are deeper reasons to meditate and to live an examined life in general. Meditation is a skill that opens doors that you might not otherwise know exist. And to say that you should do this because it reduces stress or confers any other ancillary benefit is really to miss the point. Consider an analogy to reading. Is reading good for you? Does it reduce stress? Do you see what's peculiar about that framing? Given how profound the difference is between being an avid reader and being illiterate, these are strange questions. Just think about it. Does reading reduce stress? It sort of depends on what you read, right? Is it good for you?
Sam Harris: So physical exercise is, in a generic sense, objectively good and basically good for everyone. But if you have a specific injury, if you've got a bad knee, well then you have to work around that. And there could be some exercises you just shouldn't do because it's synonymous with hurting an already injured knee. So there's all of those caveats, and yet you can still say that exercise is good for you in general, and there's a kind of a range of competence where you see, though you will never be, say, an Olympic athlete, right? You're not talking about me, are you? Yeah, I will never be an Olympic athlete. I can still see that the same principles by which an Olympic athlete becomes an Olympic athlete apply to me and will make me as good as I can be. I think that's a good analogy. And my pole vault is terrible. Have you interacted with Willoughby Britton, a scientist who has focused on the cautionary tales of intensive meditation practice, where she thinks that some number of people are harmed by meditation and we, in the scientific community, have to understand that more and be less boosterish about meditation, certainly intensive meditation practice, and more honest that there's a potential downside here. I don't know her, and she's someone who ultimately I probably should have on the podcast, but is there anything to react to in there beyond what we just said?
(someone): Well, I think she has pointed to the fact that in intensive practice You know, where people are on like a silent retreat, meditating all day long. It can go very deep where we're really going into the psyche, you know, on levels that we usually don't in our ordinary life.
(someone): Right.
Sam Harris: I guess, well, I think what's starting to happen for people is there's this expectation that its benefits have been so obviously demonstrated that it is analogous to physical exercise, where it's like, wait a minute, you don't exercise at all? You don't run, you don't bike, you don't lift weights? that begins to seem pathological. And I would imagine the circles in which you run, if you're going to conferences like TED or wherever, you're surrounded by people who would assume that the benefits are so clear-cut that you're taking some kind of stand for not being interested
(someone): Yeah. No, which obviously was not my intent. I just, I think it's never, I mean, I've, I've tried it. It's never, I probably had not been taught a way to do it that worked for me. It had never, um, it never just felt like something that was, that I wanted to make time for. And all the, my, my big beef was that aside from the fact that I think, you know, the claims far outstrip the science, you know, how many randomized controlled trials do we really have looking at isolating meditation from all of the different components of activity that you might be able to get without meditating? And then how objective are the outcomes and how consistently do they work? Is it effective for most of the people in most of the situations? I feel like there are a lot of open questions there, but I don't disbelieve that I think it's probably helpful for most people in most situations if the goal is to reduce stress or to cultivate mindfulness. I looked at that and I said, okay, but we see the same effects on stress reduction of exercise.
(someone): while when you arrange the experimental situation in the right way, you can find positive correlations, they've never been particularly strong or overwhelming. And there's never really been the questioning of the veridicality of the reports themselves and asking whether an individual who has trained his or her mind to clean lens, so to speak, might actually have better introspective access, more accurate introspective access, and therefore the correlation between the reports of experience and what's going on in the brain potentially might be higher. And of course this is the project of neurophenomenology that Francisco Varela, the biologist who co-founded the Mind and Life Institute, was really pushing, but in his life, which ended prematurely because he died of liver cancer, he really never saw the fruition of that dream. And we still haven't, but I think that the framework is now in place to actually do this in a systematic way.
Sam Harris: I'm glad you mentioned Francisco. I want to just come back and speak about him a little bit more here. But just to not give people the wrong picture here, this notion of mental training is actually esoteric even in the East, even among Buddhists. I mean, most Buddhists don't meditate, and I've even met Buddhist monks who don't meditate. I've even met Western Buddhist monks, Westerners who have gone to Thailand and ordained and become monks who themselves didn't meditate. So meditation is esoteric as a practice even among Buddhists, and that's just something that is especially strange in that context to me, but it's not like everyone east of the Bosporus is spending half their day in meditation.
(someone): And as we become happier, we make wiser choices in our lives. So it becomes a spiral of greater fulfillment and greater ease.
Sam Harris: So you would say there's a direct connection between understanding the nature of your mind, and in particular, being able to observe its character moment to moment, and actually living a wiser life and making better decisions that translate into your own happiness or ceasing to suffer unnecessarily.
(someone): Definitely. I mean, because we're all a mixture, you know, we all have a whole range of skillful and unskillful thoughts, And we begin to see very directly without an intermediary, the kinds of thoughts and feelings and emotions that are productive of suffering for ourselves and others. We feel greedy or angry or envious or jealous or a lot of what are called the afflictive emotions. We can see directly and feel directly their nature. And we say, oh, this would be good to let go of. And we see those kind of thought patterns and emotions that are actually happiness producing. But this is not theoretical. That's the beauty of meditation, that it's not theoretical, it's not just following what we read in a book. We're actually experiencing for ourselves the nature of these thoughts, of these emotions. And we see that we're feeling generous, we're feeling kind, we're feeling compassionate. It makes us happy and it makes the people around us happy. And so the choices become more obvious. This is not to say that in the first hour of our meditation, all the old habit patterns of our mind, the unskillful ones are gonna disappear. This is why it's called meditation practice. It takes a repeated seeing and learning to effect the transformation.
(someone): Richie actually was one of the most active people in founding, where graduate students and post-docs in cognitive and neuroscience came together who were interested in meditation, but lonely in their own institutions. Nobody else cared. But here they found a network, a supportive family, if you will, of fellow scientists, and that's encouraged a lot of the research. Many of the studies that we cite in our book actually were done by graduates at Institute. And at the same time, in parallel, there was the impetus given by the Dalai Lama at a Mind & Life meeting where he turns to Richie and he says, this is around 2000, year 2000, our tradition has many methods for managing disturbing, upsetting emotions. Take them out of the religious context, study them rigorously in the lab, and if they're a benefit, spread them widely.
Sam Harris: Now you're spreading them widely with this book, which we will get into in a minute, but I guess just to describe my point of contact with the history you just sketched. I knew you already, Dan, but I met up with you guys in Dharamsala for one of your Mind and Life meetings, and that's where I met Francisco for the first time. And Francisco was the one who strongly recommended that I go to Nepal at that point and study Dzogchen. I had had years as a Vipassana meditator, and I had studied with various Advaita teachers in India, but I hadn't yet connected with a Dzogchen master, and so Francisco recommended that I go to Nepal to study with Tukorg, and and he was instrumental in that happening.
(someone): It was a six-day retreat, and half the group got psilocybin on day five. They got a moderate dose of psilocybin, but not a microdose. The other half didn't. and they produce all the kinds of effects that we would expect, and the kind of effects that we've seen in long-term meditators, that actually people find that it deepens their practice, they're more engaged with it. In the case of the retreat, The deeper the experience on psilocybin, the more positive enduring effects they had at four months. And that's what we found, that in spite of the fact that people may have tens of thousands of hours of experience with meditation that nonetheless they find these experiences to be informative and interesting in ways that they find useful for their, most people, useful for their contemplative practice. They're less likely, however, to find them discontinuous with anything that they might have expected out of their contemplative experience, because they're accustomed to understanding the nature of mind, the nature of appearances, objects in mind and de-identifying with those. I think of long-term meditators, if they come out of certain contemplative conditions, are advantaged in terms of being able to learn from these experiences uniquely. What I'm intrigued with is what you know, what could be made of low-dose, repeated low-dose experiences under conditions where people were really taking them into contemplative practice and trying to learn further about the nature of mind.
Sam Harris: What do you make of the fact that DMT is endogenous to the brain, and also the pharmacology of it seems unique in that I now speak as one who's never taken DMT.
Sam Harris: Welcome to the Making Sense podcast. This is Sam Harris. Just a note to say that if you're hearing this, you are not currently on our subscriber feed and will only be hearing the first part of this conversation. In order to access full episodes of the Making Sense podcast, you'll need to subscribe at There you'll find our private RSS feed to add to your favorite podcatcher, along with other subscriber-only content. We don't run ads on the podcast, and therefore it's made possible entirely through the support of our subscribers. So if you enjoy what we're doing here, please consider becoming one. Today I'm speaking once again to my friend Joseph Goldstein. Joseph is a meditation teacher. He started the Insight Meditation Society in Berry, Massachusetts, where I did, I think, most of my retreats back in the day. And he's been on two earlier podcasts, podcast number four and 15. And if you haven't heard those, those are worth listening to because you find out who Joseph is and how he got so deeply into practice. It is no exaggeration to say that Joseph is as responsible as anyone for bringing the practice of vipassana, otherwise known as mindfulness, to the West from India. Joseph is certainly one of the finest meditation teachers I know. And today we take your questions in an AMA. And we deal with some basic questions like why meditate in the first place and how long do negative emotions actually last when you pay attention to them. But then we get into esoterica like selflessness and the Buddhist concept of enlightenment and topics that will only be of interest perhaps to a subset of you.
Sam Harris: I don't think we have to get into the weeds of that. I think what would inform this conversation more is that I heard you do a podcast with my friend Dan Harris, who's got the 10% Happier podcast and meditation app by that name. And Dan is just a hardcore evangelist for meditation now because he's found it so useful in his life. So you had a conversation there where your basic skepticism about just the whole project, whether there's a there there, came out. But it was in your op-ed as well. I mean, basically, you and I are going to agree here that the science in support of the benefits of meditation is thinner than many people would acknowledge who are relying on it, right? It's being hyped.
(someone): Yeah. And I think any serious scientist will tell you that.
Sam Harris: I guess the better way to put that is that there's a range of kind of quality of science attesting to the benefits of meditation, and some of it is obviously thin, some of it's obviously interesting, but all of it's preliminary, right? And so it's not... I mean, I would put Ritchie Davidson on the side of obviously interesting, but still preliminary. Yeah. But so to come in at the ground floor here, I think you were talking about, with Dan having met so many people whose lives they imagined had been changed by the practice of meditation, and the evangelism was starting to rub you the wrong way, such that your look at the data, coupled to the personal enthusiasms of annoying people, caused you to say, all right, enough is enough. I'm not interested in this. I don't know when you recorded this conversation with Dan.
Sam Harris: Today I'm speaking with Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. Daniel is known for his best-selling books on emotional intelligence. His book, Emotional Intelligence, I believe was the best-selling non-fiction book of the 90s. If it's not literally true, it is close. And Danny's interest in meditation goes way back to his years spent in India as a graduate student at Harvard. He's a trained psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for the New York Times. He's been a visiting faculty member at Harvard. He's received many journalistic awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. And he received the Career Achievement Award for Journalism from the American Psychological Association. And my experience with Danny goes way back. We have spent many, many months on retreats together. Back in the day, we've traveled to India and Nepal to study with various meditation teachers together. And Danny has, over the years, given me advice with respect to publishing, so it's great to be able to get him on the podcast. And Richard, known as Richie, to those who know him, is a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. and he's the director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior there. He's also the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center. Rishi also received his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard and has been at Wisconsin since 1984. and he's been a very prolific experimental scientist. He has published more than 300 papers, as well as numerous chapters and reviews, and he has edited 14 books.
(someone): Second way is what we actually learn from being mindful. And one of the things we learn is that all of these Thoughts, emotions, and everything else are impermanent. That they're there and they're there for some time and then they disappear. And even though we all know this intellectually, we don't live it as if we know it. We take our thoughts and emotions to be so stable in who we are. So seeing the impermanence of them again and again and again begins to loosen the bonds of attachment to them.
Sam Harris: It's interesting to be precise in describing just how much of a change this is experientially when you really grasp the impermanence of an emotion like anger, say. So how long would you say you could stay angry? without being lost in thought about the reasons why you should be angry. So you're thinking about an argument you just had, say, and you're not aware of a thought, that thought arising. So you're identified with a thought, you're lost in the thought, you're getting angry. And now, because you know how to practice mindfulness, you notice a thought as a thought, right? You unhook from, you're no longer identified with that bit of language or image in your mind. and the emotion of anger is still present because it's just, it's a matter of physiology, it arose and it takes some time to subside, it has some sort of half-life. Most people are walking around with the impression that it's possible to stay angry for hours or even days, right? How long would you think you could be angry if you were not subsequently lost in the next train of thought?
(someone): I think not very long.
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